The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, meanwhile, announced that it would spend $1 million on digital ads, direct mail and field organizers for candidates it supports. The group has endorsed 50 candidates — 49 of them Democrats. The lone Republican is Del. Lee Ware (Powhatan).
Those Virginia contributions come on top of other big donations from national Democratic groups and individuals, including $1 million pledged in June by billionaire Tom Steyer, now a Democratic presidential candidate. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has also made a $1 million contribution.
With all 140 seats in the state House and Senate on the ballot in November, Virginia has drawn national attention as a potential bellwether for the 2020 presidential contest.
Virginia is one of just four states with legislative races this year and the only one where control of the legislature is considered up for grabs. In the only Southern state that Donald Trump lost in 2016, Republicans are defending narrow majorities in the House (51 to 48) and the Senate (40 to 39), with one vacancy in each chamber.
Without a presidential race or contests for statewide office, this election is referred to as an “off-off” year.
Democrats picked up 15 seats in the state House in 2017, riding a wave of antipathy toward President Trump. This year, the Senate will also be on the ballot — for the first time since Trump entered the White House.
Forward Majority, based in New York, is one of several Democratic groups created amid the Trump backlash with a focus on down-ballot races. The group said it limited its spending to the House races in Virginia because it believes the state Senate is “more likely to flip absent any outside intervention.”
“It’s really important for Democrats to be aggressive in state legislative elections, because there’s so much at stake for the future of the party,” Ben Wexler-Waite, a spokesman for Forward Majority, said in an interview Monday. “For too long, we’ve ceded too much ground to Republicans, who have been investing tens of millions of dollars in down-ballot races because they understand that state legislatures are the root of power in American democracy.”
Control of the General Assembly will be a key factor in 2021, when the legislature will redraw state legislative and congressional districts based on the 2020 Census. If Democrats control both houses, Republicans will have little input on the new boundaries.
Republicans, who trailed Democrats in fundraising in the first quarter of 2019, said they were unfazed by the donations.
“Yawn,” John Findlay, executive director of the state GOP, said in an email. “More out-of-state liberal interest groups who want to buy Dem legislators. The Dems are spending millions on attack ads and zero dollars on getting justice for Justin Fairfax’s victims. Sad.”
He was referring to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who early this year faced accusations from two women that he sexually assaulted them in separate incidents in the early 2000s. Fairfax has denied the accusations.
“It’s no secret that Democrats are going to be well funded by millionaires and outside groups,” said Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “Our candidates are going to run grass-roots campaigns focused on building relationships rather than political rhetoric.”
Cox’s largest donor is the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that has given him just under $139,000 this year. His Democratic opponent, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, has far exceeded Cox in small-dollar donations. Between January and the end of June, she had 2,228 contributions of $100 or less, while Cox had 94.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Cox had one small-dollar donation between January and the end of June. He had 94.